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The sinking democracy in Maldives

By Anand Kumar
October 28, 2013 17:04 IST
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Democracy in Maldives is at the crossroads. There is need for the international community to put pressure on the incumbent regime in the country, so that it is not able to disrupt elections once again, and the democracy in Maldives could be saved from sinking, says Anand Kumar.

The Maldives, the Indian Ocean archipelago country, known for facing threats from global climate change is presently facing another threat. This threat is on the political front and the country’s nascent multi-party democracy seems to be endangered ‘by the remnants’ of Gayoom era and from those international players that want to enhance their presence in the Indian Ocean.

An era of multi-party democracy had started in the Maldives in 2008 when Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldivian Democratic Party had defeated the longest serving dictator of Asia, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in the presidential elections. But the forces loyal to Gayoom soon asserted themselves and in the ensuing revolt of police and a section of military, the  then president Nasheed was forced to resign on February 7, 2012. In his place, his vice-president Mohamed Waheed Hassan had taken over. Though Nasheed alleged that the transfer of power was actually a coup d'etat, the inquiry commission subsequently instituted gave Waheed a clean chit.

However, the way political situation has developed in the Maldives after September 7 elections, gives credence to what Nasheed has been alleging. He had been alleging that Mohamed Waheed Hassan had acted at the instance of Gayoom, who had used his loyalists in the armed forces, police and judiciary to overthrow Nasheed.

In the first round of elections that were held on September 7, Nasheed had emerged as the leading candidate by polling 45.5 percent of the votes. But he failed to secure an outright victory as his vote percentage was less than 50 percent.

The next two candidates were Abdulla Yameen of Progressive Party of Maldives and Qasim Ibrahim of Jumhooree Party. Both these candidates polled about 25 percent of the votes and were good 20 percent behind Nasheed. It was very obvious that that in a run-off that was to be held on September 21 Nasheed would emerge as a clear winner. Nasheed’s victory was ensured as he had garnered the support of the DRP candidate Thasmeen Ali. Moreover, fence sitters like in any election seeing which way the wind was blowing would have cast their vote in his favour. 

Nasheed’s opponents sensing his return to power chose other means to subvert the electoral process. They alleged that there was flaw in the voters’ list and the polls were not conducted properly. The third ranking candidate, Qasim Ibrahim who is also a member of the judicial commission filed a petition in the Supreme Court alleging irregularity in the September 7 polls, though the international community had termed these elections as free and fair.

The Supreme Court of Maldives surprised everyone when it annulled the September 7 elections, on the basis of a ‘secret police report’ that has not been made public. What was interesting that in its verdict the Supreme Court tried to give greater role to police in the conduct of elections rather than putting them under the Maldives Election Commission. It also asked the ECM to get the voters list endorsed by all three top candidates before proceeding for the elections that were rescheduled for October 19. By this decision the Supreme Court actually gave veto power to Yameen and Qasim Ibrahim who ultimately chose to disrupt elections by not giving their consent.

In Maldives, state institutions seem to be working at cross-purposes. The Maldives Election Commission on the one hand is trying to conduct a free and fair election as soon as possible so that a democratic government can come to power in the Maldives, but on the other hand we have police and judiciary that are trying to create as many hurdles as possible.

The hyper-active role of the police is also questionable. The police force surrounded the EC office when it tried to conduct run-off election as scheduled on September 28. Similarly, police also forcibly thwarted attempt of the ECM to conduct elections on October 19.

In Maldives, the judiciary and police have huge number of people who were recruited during the Gayoom era. These two institutions are at present showing their loyalty to individuals and not to the country or democracy. Misusing them Nasheed’s opponents have managed to get elections disrupted on last two occasions.

Nasheed fears that they many once again be misused before November 9 elections. For this reason he has asked the incumbent president Waheed to resign and urged the speaker of the parliament Abdulla Shahid to take over.

However, Waheed has refused to give up power until his tenure ends on November 11. The legitimacy of Waheed’s regime already became questionable after he polled just five percent of votes in September elections, possibly lowest votes polled by any incumbent president anywhere. His desire to stick to power at this stage raises many questions and many actually believe that he might be acting at the instance of extra-regional forces that are trying to strengthen their presence in the Maldives.

Clearly, the democracy in Maldives is at the crossroads. There is need for the international community to put pressure on the incumbent regime in the country, so that it is not able to disrupt elections once again, and the democracy in Maldives could be saved from sinking.

Anand Kumar is associate fellow, Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses.

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